Reader Writes, July 2016
At our Queen's birthday Communion in June Ben preached from the text where the Pharisees set a trap for Jesus by asking him whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar; if no, then he would be denounced for treason, and if yes, then he would be denounced to his own people for disloyalty. But he defeated them by calling for a Roman coin, and after observing Caesar's image he made his judgement “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's”. We have a duty to the state and we have a duty to God. Under the law we seldom if ever have to compromise our faith, although our faith inevitably and frequently sets us against the grain of culture and politics.
By the time this is printed it is certain that we will be in a state of shock over the EU referendum; either way, a close call has profound implications for our own society, for our European neighbours, for our fellow humanity driven to leave deeply damaged and struggling states. However the vote has gone, unavoidably the solutions to the earth's most towering threats – take climate change, migration, toxic capitalism – will require cooperation and concession.
Is there a spiritual argument from the Church on this? The Archbishop, Justin Welby, judiciously said that there was no Church position on the vote but that he would vote Remain, observing that an imperfect EU had forged the structures of trust and empathy bringing unprecedented peace to Europe. We are called to have a view and actively participate although we may not share the Loose Canon Giles Fraser's argument that all barriers and borders are likely to be immoral because they seek to turn our privileges into a gated community denied to the poor and desperate. Our Lord's teaching sets a simple, radical and demanding standard: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart ......... and love your neighbour as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.”
Being a good neighbour, and I hope a joyful neighbour, in our own community where everyday demands and opportunities lie, means being an active participating neighbour. If you are a Christian then it means being a prayerful and thoughtful neighbour who notices what is going on, always ready to pour healing oils, real or metaphorical, on friends in need. We can 'render unto Caesar' with vigour and even enthusiasm because we are all stakeholders in “Caesar's” society. But by the standards set by Jesus, we must do so much more and at a longer sustained stride with pilgrimage in its heart.
Look up in our summer skies to love and admire a close neighbour that you will never know, the swifts. They are migrants, our guests for only 3 months a year, borrowing our roof cavities but making no demands on our generosity. They unquestionably add joy and wonder to our lives. God bless you neighbours all!